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The Iran Primer

Zarif & Ashton Announce June 16-20 Talks

      On May 26, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that a new round of nuclear talks is scheduled for June 16 to 20 in Vienna. The last round of negotiations on May 16 between Iran and the world’s six major powers —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States —ended without any tangible progress. The following is a statement released by the European Union after the meeting in Istanbul.

            The High Representative held very long and useful discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif in order to inform the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme.
            They explored different possibilities as part of an ongoing process.
            The next formal round of E3/EU+3 talks with Iran will be from 16-20 June in Vienna.
In the meantime, the High Representative and Minister are recommending that an experts’ meeting should take place soon.
            Other political discussions will continue as and when needed.



US Sanctions Iranian Official for Censorship

            On May 23, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Iranian official Morteza Tamaddon for involvement in censorship. “The United States is keenly focused on promoting opportunities for the Iranian people to fully exercise their universal rights,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. The action was taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13628, which authorizes Treasury to designate those who engage in censorship or other activities that limit the freedom of expression or assembly of the Iranian people. The following is an excerpt from the press release.

            Morteza Tamaddon is currently the head of the Tehran Provincial Public Security Council. As former Governor-General of Tehran Province, he used his authority to penalize the exercise of and limit Iranians’ freedom of expression and assembly following the disputed 2009 elections in Iran. Tamaddon has been personally responsible for the harassment of Iranian political opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi. In addition, he used his position to cut off mobile phone communications during political demonstrations and to silence and intimidate Iranian citizens in 2012 by publicly threatening political protestors.
           Tamaddon has been placed on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. All property and interests in property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individual designated today has an interest are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with him. In addition, any foreign financial institution or person that facilitates significant transactions or provides material support to the designated entities or individuals may have their access to the U.S. financial system severed or their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction blocked.
Identifying Information
Individual:      Morteza Tamaddon
DOB:              1959
POB:               Shahr Kord-Isfahan, Iran

How the US Decides on Whom to Impose Sanctions

            The following is an excerpt from the U.S. Government Accountability Office's letter to the chair of the House of Representative’s foreign affairs committee detailing the process to determine whether to impose sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act.

            U.S. sanctions on Iran include those specified in the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (Iran Sanctions Act). Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act authorizes sanctions on persons engaging in various activities that involve weapons of mass destruction or other military capabilities and are related to Iran. You requested that we review how the Department of State (State) has implemented the sanctions provisions in Section 5(b). This report describes the process State and other relevant U.S. agencies use to determine whether to sanction persons under Section 5(b).
            To determine the process State and other relevant U.S. agencies use to determine whether to sanction persons under Section 5(b), we obtained documentation and interviewed State officials. We interviewed agency officials at the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce (agencies identified by State as relevant to the sanctions determination process), and obtained corroborating documentation about their roles in making this determination. In addition, we compared the agencies’ criteria with the relevant requirements in Section 5(b). We obtained documentation from State about the number of sanctions imposed under Section 5(b). We interviewed State officials to obtain additional context relating to the sanctions process. We also reviewed the Federal Register for notifications of Section 5(b) sanctions for the time period August 10, 2012, to May 20, 2014.
           We conducted this performance audit from January 2014 to May 2014 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.
           Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act requires the President to impose sanctions on any person who has engaged in a transaction that meets all of the following criteria:
• The activity must have occurred on or after August 10, 2012.
• A person must have exported or transferred, or permitted or otherwise facilitated the transshipment of, any goods, services, or technology or other items to any other person.
• The person must have known or should have known that the export, transfer, or transshipment of the goods, services, technology, or other items would likely result in another person exporting, transferring, transshipping, or otherwise providing the goods, services, or technology or other items to Iran.
• The person must have known or should have known that the export, transfer, transshipment, or other provision of the goods, services, technology, or other items to Iran would contribute materially to the ability of Iran to (I) acquire or develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or related technologies or (II) acquire or develop destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.
            Section 5(b) also requires the President to impose sanctions on persons engaged in certain joint ventures linked to Iran and involving the mining, production, or transportation of uranium. The President has delegated the decision to impose Section 5(b) sanctions to the Secretary of State.
State Leads the Process to Determine Whether to Sanction Persons under Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act
            State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation’s Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives leads an interagency process to evaluate whether a person’s activities are potentially sanctionable under Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act or under one or more of other multiple Iran-related sanctions authorities.8Figure 1 illustrates the process for identifying persons meeting sanctions requirements under Section 5(b). The process begins with four State-led interagency working groups. These groups are the Nuclear Interdiction Action Group, the SHIELD Chemical and Biological Weapons Group, the Technology Transfer Working Group, and the Missile Trade Analysis Group.
Figure 1: Process for Identifying Persons Meeting Sanctions Requirements under Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act
            *The four working groups include, for example, members from the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the intelligence community, among others. These working groups are responsible for identifying potential violations of multiple proliferation-related sanctions authorities, including Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act.
            Each working group is chaired by a State official and consists of representatives from several U.S. government departments and agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Energy; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and various intelligence community agencies. U.S. government officials who participate as subject matter experts on the working groups said that they advise State on transactions related to their respective areas of focus. For instance, the Nuclear Interdiction Action Group, the SHIELD Chemical and Biological Weapons Group, and the Technology Transfer Working Group are responsible for examining sources, including intelligence reports, that may be relevant to provisions of Section 5(b) related to nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and advanced conventional weapons, respectively. The Missile Trade Analysis Group is responsible for monitoring transfers of missile proliferation concern that are considered relevant to Section 5(b).
            Officials from the Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives stated that the working groups are responsible for regularly evaluating reports to identify transactions that are potentially sanctionable under one or more of the multiple Iran-related nonproliferation sanction authorities, including Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act. State officials said these reports come from a variety of sources, including the intelligence community. Working group representatives said they are in regular communication and meet biweekly or monthly to discuss these reports and their findings to determine whether transactions meet the criteria for sanctions. According to State and other working group officials, the interagency review process relies on criteria as defined in Section 5(b) when assessing a transaction for the potential application of those sanctions. Officials from the interagency working groups said that State directs them to apply these criteria when assessing transactions for the possible imposition of sanctions under Section 5(b). State is in the process of drafting a document to officially outline its Section 5(b) review procedures and the guidance it provides to the participating working group agencies. State officials also said the groups may stop reviewing transactions if they determine available information does not provide a basis for applying sanctions or is not legally sufficient.
            Once a working group determines that a transaction appears to demonstrate sanctionable activity under Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act, the working group chair reports the group’s findings and recommendations to State’s Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives. The office further examines the narrowed list of transactions forwarded by the working groups, informally consulting with working group chairs and legal advisors to clarify technical points and answer questions on transactions identified as potentially sanctionable. For those transactions that appear to demonstrate sanctionable activity, the Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives solicits interagency advice, and drafts and circulates a decision memorandum to relevant stakeholders for clearance. Once the stakeholders have fully cleared the memorandum, the Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives forwards it to the Secretary of State or his/her designee for a final sanctions determination. At any stage of this process, State officials may determine that there is no current basis for applying sanctions. The Office of Counterproliferation Initiatives prepares a report on imposed sanctions for publication in the Federal Register.
            According to State officials, the interagency working groups have not identified any cases that meet the legal requirements necessary to impose sanctions under Section 5(b) as of May 19, 2014. Our review of the Federal Register confirmed that State has not imposed any such sanctions as of May 20, 2014.
Click here for a PDF of the letter.

“Happy” Video Dancers Released by Police

            On May 21, six young Iranians detained for appearing in a video singing along to Pharrell William’s “Happy” were released by Tehran police. But the director of the video was not. In the YouTube clip below, three women — without hijab — and three men dance and lip synch to the American pop song.


            The clip was viewed more than 100,000 times before the six dancers were detained on May 20. Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia ordered the arrests of the youth for making an “obscene video clip that offended the public morals,” the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported. “They were identified within two hours, and after six hours they were all arrested,” Sajedinia told media. The six dancers were forced to express remorse on state television for making the YouTube clip. Part of the broadcast is subtitled below.

            Pharell Williams and his fans around the world voiced condemned the arrests on social media. “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” the singer tweeted on May 20. The hashtag #FreeHappyIranians went viral.
            A tweet on President Hassan Rouhani's semi-official account may have indicated disapproval of the detention. The following quote from 2013 was posted on May 21.  


             Rouhani campaigned for better access to information and less government oversight. After his June 2013 election, Rouhani warned, “In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine.” Rouhani’s minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Ali Jannati, has repeatedly called for lifting bans on social media like Facebook and Twitter. But hardliners have sabotaged efforts by Rouhani’s administration to ease web censorship.
           The six dancers from the YouTube clip were released on May 21. But the director reportedly remains in custody. The detention came amid an outpouring of support for a Facebook page — “My Stealthy Freedom” — featuring hundreds of pictures of Iranian women without their hijabs. The page has generated more than 400,000 comments on Facebook.

Political Chasm Deepens Over Nuke Program

Nima Gerami

            Iran’s political elite has become increasingly divided over the course of nuclear negotiations with the world’s six major powers, which began last fall. The current debate appears to fall into three camps:
Nuclear supporters. This faction reportedly includes Revolutionary Guards officials, personnel from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and members of the conservative Steadfast Front and its spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi. They criticize suspension and temporary constraints on nuclear capabilities. They also reject prospects that the outside world will dictate Iran’s security needs.
            “The most advanced weapons must be produced inside our country even if our enemies don’t like it. There is no reason that [our enemies] have the right to produce a special type of weapon, while other countries are deprived of it,” Mesbah-Yazdi said in 2005.
     The Revolutionary Guards, led by Major General Ali Jafari, and AEOI personnel have both a political and economic interest in maintaining Iran’s international isolation. “The government entered into negotiations with heroic flexibility in keeping with its principles to ease the pressure of sanctions. Either the country’s officials succeed or they get disillusioned with the West and focus on our domestic potential, Jafari said in February 2014. “In both cases we are the winners. But the Supreme Leader has set red lines that [the government] cannot cross and he will not let it do so.”
     But nuclear supporters span the political spectrum and also include noted reformists who maintain that Iran does not need to bow to Western demands over its nuclear program. They also oppose full domestic transparency or accountability on the nuclear issue.
Nuclear centrists. Led by President Hassan Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, nuclear centrists argue that Tehran should be flexible in its interaction with the West. They appeal to mantiq (or rationality). They also believe that isolationist policies will ultimately weaken Iran’s economic and political standing in the world.
      “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives and livelihoods are also running,” Rouhani said in 2013.
     The centrists appear more willing to accept constraints on the nuclear program to end Iran’s international isolation, improve the economy, and preserve regime stability. They also appear more flexible on issues such as capping uranium enrichment levels and modifying the Arak heavy water reactor to reduce the amount of plutonium produced.
Nuclear detractors. Comprised mostly of former government officials and academics affiliated with the banned reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, nuclear detractors question the practical need for a civil nuclear energy program, given the cost of sanctions and other national priorities.
           “Contrary to its claims, the regime is secretly preparing to produce weapons of mass destruction…This whole issue has turned into a point of weakness for the country, and the foreign powers are using it to exert pressure on us. In other words, instead of generating power and strength for Iran, the nuclear issue has only weakened it,” said Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, former parliamentarian and professor of physics at the Isfahan University of Technology in 2003.
      After his election in 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to purge reformists from government. But the detractors continued to challenge the need for a nuclear program. Former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri called for a national referendum on the issue in 2012. And Nouri’s former deputy, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist arrested after the disputed 2009 presidential election, continues to publish open letters from Evin Prison criticizing Tehran’s nuclear policies. 
      President Rouhani has taken several steps to sideline his domestic critics. He reshuffled the AEOI leadership and moved several officials who had opposed nuclear negotiations, according to an AEOI spokesman. In September 2013, Rouhani also transferred the nuclear file from the Supreme National Security Council to the foreign ministry. The switch made Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif the chief nuclear negotiator and improved the atmospherics of nuclear talks. Rouhani has also tried to persuade the Supreme Leader to curb the economic and political influence of the Revolutionary Guards, whose leaders have been consistent critics of Rouhani’s engagement with the West.
     The Supreme Leader has the final say on the nuclear issue and, so far, he has been both supportive and skeptical about negotiations— creating distance and deniability if diplomacy fails. He has set red lines for Rouhani’s negotiating team, warning that any comprehensive agreement should not forfeit Iran’s nuclear research and development activities, including its “right” to enrich uranium and its ballistic missile program.
      Rouhani has bet heavily on resolving Iran’s economic crisis through nuclear negotiations. But sanctions relief and Rouhani’s economic policies have produced only marginal improvements in reducing and stabilizing inflation. Meanwhile, the administration’s subsidy reforms have led to a surge in gasoline prices, stoking fears of unrest. And the clock is ticking on diplomacy. The same domestic critics of nuclear talks, particularly within the Steadfast Front, have sought to sow discord by stepping up criticism of Rouhani’s social and cultural policies. Public discontent could carry high political costs for Rouhani and potentially even convince the Supreme Leader to further distance himself from any nuclear deal.
            Despite being portrayed as a core national interest, Tehran’s nuclear policies are subject to little rigorous, well-informed public debate. Since 2004, the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s highest formal decision-making body, has issued censorship rules limiting official comments on the nuclear program. Many aspects of the nuclear program remain shrouded in secrecy. Members of Parliament have complained that Iran’s nuclear facilities have been funded outside normal budgetary channels, with little to no parliamentary oversight on either sites or diplomacy.
            In his 2011 memoir, Rouhani describes differences among the political elite, particularly on engagement with the West, which frustrated nuclear talks with the European Union between 2003 and 2005. Internal divisions made decision-making difficult and prevented Iran from negotiating from a position of strength, according to Rouhani. His memoir provoked criticism from political opponents, including former nuclear negotiator and presidential candidate Saeed Jalili. Jalili’s campaign manager accused Rouhani of disclosing classified information in his controversial memoir.
            Elite divisions could again undermine Iran’s diplomacy if the Supreme Leader concludes that the political costs of alienating the regime’s power base—including the Revolutionary Guards, intelligence services, and the paramilitary Basij—outweigh the economic benefits of a comprehensive agreement with the West. Whether the Supreme Leader consents to a Rouhani-brokered deal will be heavily influenced by the views and attitudes of Iran’s political elite.

Click here for Nima Gerami’s monograph, “Leadership Divided: The Domestic Politics of Iran’s Nuclear Debate.”

Nima Gerami is a research fellow in the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Defense University. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US government.
Photo credits:Ali Jafari via Leader.ir, Hassan Rouhani via President.ir, Abdollah Nouri by Meysam Khezri via Qom_IRAN and Flickr, Ali Khamenei via Khamenei.ir
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